Dirt lovers have several miles of fresh trail to break in at Ewing Park, an area with potential for more unique biking opportunities in the future.

Much of the manpower for the work was provided by the Central Iowa Trail Association, as much trail blazers as they are trail enthusiasts. Members not only ride the trails, they build and maintain them, too, said CITA President Brian Sheesley.

He and other members have been doing more building than riding lately. Now they're shifting from clearing pathways to spreading word about Ewing's new single-track trails. Located at Southeast McKinley Avenue and Indianola Road, Ewing is Des Moines' largest park. The area is a hidden gem, so getting maps and signs out are the next steps for the group.

"These trails are not just used by mountain bikers, but trail riders, dog walkers and bird watchers," he said.

CITA members haul the group's trailer full of equipment to do trail work days every third Saturday of the month. The group also hosts trail building workshops to educate members on erosion control and how to make sustainable paths.

Sheesley estimates at least 300 volunteers have logged more than 1,000 hours since the Ewing project began in 2011. In all, six miles of trail are now open to explore.

The trails were funded and constructed through a joint effort of Des Moines Parks and Recreation, the Friends of Des Moines Parks, the Wellmark Foundation, Prairie Meadows and the Central Iowa Trail Association, a chapter of the International Mountain Bicycling Association.

The park is former farmland donated to the city, and the portion featuring the main trails sat undeveloped for about 70 years. Two miles of trail were developed in 2011 with help from the city, CITA and the Boy Scouts.

Invasive honeysuckle overtook the wooded area and forced CITA to turn to professional trail builders, Singletrack Trails Inc. The Colorado-based firm uses a narrow excavator with brush mower and articulating blade attachments to carve out precise paths with curves and twists through the rough terrain.

"My concern was putting volunteers through that really tough work on honeysuckle removal and burning everyone out. This way we were definitely able to keep everyone motivated," Sheesley said.

The professional crew worked on one section of trail last November and returned a few weeks ago to finish the rest. Volunteers completed the final clearing work with rakes and axes. It would have taken volunteers at least a year to finish that work alone, he said.

The new trails can be accessed off the McKinley Avenue parking lot, just beyond the Soapbox Derby Overlook Bridge. They are the first of about five more phases planned at Ewing.

Also planned to augment the park's existing BMX track is a skills area and pump track designed with a series of berms that bikers would ride by pumping handle bars up and down instead of pedaling, as well as a beginner "tot track."

Plans to rehab existing trails in the park section across Indianola Avenue could add another six to seven miles of trails.

Several elements of the park's master plan, created in 2004, have moved forward, including the dog park, playground improvements, storm water projects and woodland restoration. As funding and partnerships grow in the future, more features can be implemented, said Jen Fletcher, marketing supervisor for Des Moines Park and Recreation.

CITA members have donated time, money and expertise to help construct and maintain about 50 miles of trails in Des Moines' Greenwood, Ashworth, Ewing and Water Works parks, she added.

"In a time of reduced tax support, we are fortunate to have forged several strong community partnerships, including that with CITA. In addition to the assistance we have received from the non-profit Friends of Des Moines Parks, we are developing a network of partners that have enabled us to move several projects forward," she said.

Sheesley said he hopes the Ewing partnership serves as a model for future projects in other locations as well.

Learn more about the Central Iowa Trail Association and the Ewing Park trails project at

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